Guest commentary: Supreme Court threatens life on the planet

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite/Guest commentary

Hot enough for you? Denver is expected to reach temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit later this week.

And yet six conservative justices of the Supreme Court decided that Congress had insufficiently delegated authority to the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions from plants emitting high levels of greenhouse gases, a proven cause of global warming.

These six justices are engaging in a radical reinterpretation of the Constitution to force the United States back decades, even perhaps more than a century.

Their pronouncements have threatened women’s freedom to make decisions for their own bodies, the authority of states to protect their citizens from out-of-control gun violence, and now, in the widest existential threat of all, the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in his usual way of making the completely unreasonable sound reasonable, wrote for the majority: “Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day’ … But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme in Section 111(d). A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body.” 

Roberts tips his hand when he puts ‘crisis of the day’ in single quotation marks as though this were an annoying issue raised by some instead of the literal threat to all life on Earth that it is.

We are in a climate emergency. Just go to Denver this week and see how you feel.  

What this case is about is a systematic plan to constrain the executive branch of the federal government and hobble its capacity to protect American citizens from dirty air, polluted water, consumer fraud, banking scams, hazards in the workplace and threats to public health.

This radical, unaccountable majority of Supreme Court justices is trying to usher in a dystopian future when companies can more freely trash the environment, prey on citizens, let them die from preventable workplace accidents and contract the host of new diseases that are appearing in the world.

It is a wholesale giveaway to corporations to let them run amok.

And yes, it is corporations that are the ones really pulling the strings of this new majority on the Supreme Court. Overturning Roe v. Wade or allowing prayer by a coach on the football field (and how is that “private speech?”) are just sops to the far-right Christians who vote and elect those who are turning the country over to the corporations. When corporations have the rights of “personhood” and women do not have rights about their bodies, you know that has to be true.

I have written that the Supreme Court overturning Roe meant that there would be “free states and unfree states.” 

But there is no such thing as a “state where you are free to breathe and not die of heat stroke and ones where you are not.”

We are all connected as one country and indeed one planet. Coal plants polluting the environment in Kentucky mean it is over 100 degrees in Denver.

The idea that we are one nation, one body of citizens whose government should be able to protect them, is literally under attack from the six radicals on the Supreme Court. 

The Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president emerita and professor emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.